Sen. Menendez eases off Iran sanctions

A leading Senate Democrat indicated Thursday that he may be ready to abandon his push for new sanctions on Iran in the face of intense White House opposition.

Instead, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) said he may pursue a resolution that would define the Senate's expectations for any final nuclear deal with Iran.

The pro-Israel hawk made the remarks at a hearing where Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) made clear his intention to hold off indefinitely on new sanctions.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I have been a proponent of pursuing additional sanctions prospectively ... but I'm beginning to think based upon on all of this that maybe what the Senate needs to do is to define the end game, or at least what it finds as acceptable as the final status,” Menendez declared at the hearing with Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the interim deal with Iran agreed to last month in Geneva. “Because I'm getting nervous about what I perceive will be acceptable to [the administration] as a final status ... versus what the Congress might view as acceptable.”

“Maybe defining that through a resolution may be a course of action that would affect the ultimate outcome, which is obviously the most important one.”

Earlier in the hearing, the top Republican on Menendez's committee acknowledged that the Senate is unlikely to pass a new sanctions bill.

“I realize that we're sort of going through a rope-a-dope here in the Senate and that we're not actually going to do anything,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

Menendez told reporters after leaving the hearing that he's particular worried that a final deal would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium on its own soil. He also wants the plutonium reactor at Arak shut down.

Secretary of State John Kerry testified Tuesday in the House that a final deal would likely allow some uranium enrichment, albeit at a level far below the concentration needed to produce a nuclear weapon.

“We're looking at all the options and what is the best effort that the Senate can lead to ensure the eventual outcome is one that we can all be supportive of,” Menendez said. “I'm beginning to think, based on all the statements I hear from the administration, we're not getting a clear sense about what the ... final end state is going to be. And I am concerned when I see what the administration says is their understanding of the agreement and I see what the Iranians say is their understanding of the agreement.

“And it makes me unnerved that as we move toward a final status agreement, which I hope can be achieved, that it's one that we can live with,” he continued. “There's a wide range of questions, and ... answers to those questions ultimately make a big difference as to what many members of the Senate can be supportive of.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill